Bed bugs have been bothering humans for thousands of years. Researchers have found evidence of these pests dating back to ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt. Despite their long existence alongside humans, during the 1950’s bed bugs were nearly completely eradicated in the developed world. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the United States saw a major resurgence in bed bugs . This could be due to increased international travel, use of targeted pesticides, growing bed bug resistance to pest control products, or a lack of prevention understanding among the general public. Whatever the reasons may be, bed bugs have become a major problem, and residents across the U.S. are scrambling to know how to get rid of them.
Professional bed bug control has become big business for pest control companies. These treatments can be very expensive, so many frustrated people have started tackling the problem on their own. It can be tricky, but it can definitely be accomplished. Bed bugs are one of the most difficult pests to eliminate, so it is widely recommended that control methods involve many different approaches, both non-chemical and chemical. With a well thought-out plan, effective bed bug treatment products, and continued use of bed bug prevention methods, do-it-yourself bed bug control can be achieved. This Ultimate Guide to Bed Bugs will give you all the information you need to know to eliminate bed bugs for good.
Bed Bug Identification
If you are concerned about a possible bed bug infestation, proper identification is the first important step. There are many different bugs that are often mistaken for bed bugs including: fleas, carpet beetles, ticks, booklice, spider beetles, and cockroach nymphs. Before you waste a lot of time and money, make sure that you are really dealing with bed bugs.
Adult Bed Bug Characteristics
The common bed bug (cimex lectularius) is brown or reddish-brown in color and typically 5-7 mm long, which is roughly the size of an apple seed. Bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, so their looks can change depending on how recently they have eaten. Blood-filled bed bugs appear elongated and balloon-like, while unfed bed bugs are long and flat with an oval-shaped body. Sometimes they may appear slightly striped because of their hair growth patterns. Bed bugs have 6 legs, 3 body parts, 2 antennae, and residual wing pads, but no actual wings. Bed bugs do not jump or fly, but instead crawl to their food source. They also have a sucking mouth part that can pierce the skin of their blood source. They will then inject an anticoagulant and an anesthetic to aid in getting their blood meal.
Bed Bug Nymph Characteristics
Immature bed bugs are called nymphs and differ in appearance from adults. Nymphs are smaller, and some can be nearly translucent in color. Others may appear to be whitish-yellow. Red coloring may be noticeable in bed bug nymphs that have recently fed, but immature bed bugs that have not eaten recently can be nearly invisible.
Bed Bug Egg Characteristics
If you suspect bed bugs and want to check for eggs, it is helpful to have a magnifying glass. Bed bug eggs have an elongated shape similar to a grain of rice and are creamy white in appearance. They are very small (approximately 1 mm long), and can be laid singly or in groups. They are usually stuck to a surface and can not be shaken off. Eggs are often found in small cracks or crevices or in seams along mattresses or furniture. Females can lay 1-3 eggs per day for a total of 200-500 in a lifetime.
If after examining the bugs and eggs, you are still unsure if they are bed bugs, you can contact your local extension center or contact a trained entomologist for further clarification and help.
Bed Bug Bites
Although it is very difficult to positively identify bed bugs by their bite, it is another sign that can help determine what you are dealing with. Bed bugs feed on blood and are attracted to warmth and carbon dioxide, so sleeping humans tend to be the most obvious choice. While animals may also be targeted, humans are preferred. Bites typically appear as very small, itchy, red welts. They may be in clusters or zig-zagged lines. If scratched, they can become irritated and infected. It may take several days for a bite to show up, and it is estimated that 1 in 3 people actually show no reaction to bites. Luckily, bed bugs do not transmit or spread diseases, so the bites may be annoying, but they are unlikely to cause any severe symptoms.
If you can find an infestation early, the effort and money associated with removal will be much less costly. Here are some of the signs to be aware of:
- Live or dead bed bugs (adults, nymphs, or eggs)
- Bed bug bites
- Red or rust colored stains on bed sheets or mattresses where bugs have been smashed
- Dark spots (excrement) on bedding that may bleed into the fabric. They are most often found near the seams or piping of the mattresses.
- Pale yellow skins from where bed bug nymphs have molted.
Signs of bed bugs are usually found within 15-20 feet of where humans sleep, but large infestations can spread out into multiple rooms. When inspecting for bed bugs, it is important to identify and then isolate areas of bed bug activity. Common places where bed bugs live include: mattresses, bedding, bed frames, furniture, cracks and crevices, under peeling wallpaper, in window coverings, under loose carpet, on upholstered furniture, clothing, couches, and electrical outlets. Check these places for signs of bed bugs using a flashlight. Once you have identified the areas in your home where bed bugs have been active, be very careful not to spread the infestation to other areas.
Non-Chemical Methods of Bed Bug Control
Bed bug removal may require a great deal of time and patience depending on the severity of the infestation. Bed bug control can be achieved, but a combination of both non-chemical and chemical methods usually proves most effective.
It is important to reduce the amount of clutter in the room before trying to move forward with treatment. Do NOT move things from the infested area to other areas in your house. Instead, get rid of extra papers, clothing, cardboard boxes, and magazines that are not needed by disposing of them. Place all trash in a plastic bag, seal it, and take it outside immediately. For items that you want to keep, place them in a sealed bag or plastic bin before moving them to other areas of the house.
Isolate Your Sleeping Area
Next, isolate your sleeping area. Move the bed away from the wall at least 6 inches, strip the bedding and place it in plastic garbage bags, and vacuum the mattress, box spring, and bed frame thoroughly. After doing all this, encase both mattresses in a bed bug mattress protector. The protector will starve and kill any remaining bed bugs and also allow you to easily see if bed bugs are coming back. When you have treated all of your bedding, make sure that it is tucked under the mattress and does not touch the floor.
Heat Treatment for Bed Bugs
Heat is one of the most effective methods of eliminating bed bugs. Take all clothing, linens, bedding, drapes, etc. from your room in a large plastic garbage bag to keep them from infesting other areas. New bed bug research suggests several ways that you can launder your things to kill bed bugs. You can wash your clothing in hot water (140° F) for 30 minutes, dry them on high heat (104-122° F) for 30 minutes, or dry clean them. Any of these heating methods has been shown to kill adults, nymphs, and eggs.
For items that cannot be laundered, you can put them in a sealed bag and place them in the sun or a hot car. As long as the temperature gets hot enough, the bed bugs will not survive. Once the items have been heat treated, place them in a plastic storage bin until the infestation has been resolved.
Cold Treatment for Bed Bugs
It has also been shown that bed bugs cannot survive temperatures that are too cold. For things that cannot be washed, you can put them in a chest freezer set to 0° F. After 8-10 hours, the bed bugs will be dead.
Store Other Items
There are some things that just can’t be subjected to excess heat or cold. These items can be stored in a sealed plastic bin. After 2-5 months the bed bugs will have died, and the articles are safe to use.
Vacuum and Clean
Once the majority of things have been carefully treated and removed from the room, vacuum and clean thoroughly. Use vacuum attachments to clean upholstered furniture, carpets, and cracks and crevices.
Chemical Methods of Bed Bug Control
After you have done your best with non-chemical methods, there are some great products that can help you achieve complete elimination. As with any chemical, always read and follow all label directions. Also, choose products that are EPA registered and labeled for bed bug use.
Desiccants destroy the outer coating on a bed bug and are used to dry them out. These dusts are safe for indoor use and are particularly effective in narrow cracks and gaps, behind electrical outlets, and around switches where other products can’t reach. There are two commonly used desiccants for bed bugs. Silica powder is made from sand or quartz. It pulls water out of the bed bug until it dies. Diatomaceous Earth has microscopic sharp edges that will cut the outer shell of the bed bug, also causing it to dry out.
Pyrethrin and Pyrethroid Sprays
These sprays have long been a staple in pest control because they are strong and long-lasting. Pyrethrins are insecticides derived from the chrysanthemum flower and are lethal to bed bugs. Unfortunately, some bed bug populations have become resistant to these sprays. In those cases, a different product like PF Harris’ Black Label Bed Bug Killer for pyrethroid-resistant bed bugs may get better results.
Liquid or Aerosol Sprays
These low-toxicity sprays kill bed bugs on contact, and some provide residual effects that will continue to kill bed bugs over time. They are helpful in the initial stages of bed bug removal and should be applied directly to the bugs if possible. One downside is that they often do not get into difficult to reach areas. Using sprays in combination with other products, like desiccants, is most effective.
Other Chemical Products Available
There are several other options for chemicals that work in different ways to kill bed bugs. Plant oil-based products (from neem seeds) have been shown to be effective. Insect Growth Regulators that alter the production of chitin needed for an insect’s exoskeleton are also approved for use. There are more than 300 products that have been registered with the EPA for control of bed bugs, so it is important to do your research and read all labels carefully.
Bed Bug Prevention Tips and Tricks
As the bed bug problem has grown, the EPA has gone to great efforts to educate the general public on bed bug prevention methods. Whether you are trying to prevent a bed bug infestation or keep them from coming back, there are some key things that you can do to protect your home and family.
- Thoroughly check second-hand furniture for signs of bed bugs before bringing it into your home.
- Use protective covers on your mattress and box spring to prevent an infestation and make bed bugs easier to spot.
- Reduce the amount of clutter in your home.
- Vacuum regularly to pick up any stray bed bugs that may have gotten into your house.
- If you use a shared laundry, place your clothing in plastic bags and fold it at home to reduce the chance of picking up bed bugs from other people’s clothes.
- If you live in an apartment or multi-unit home, seal cracks and crevices around baseboards and outlets and use door sweeps to keep bed bugs from migrating to your unit.
- Monitor your home for bed bugs by using bed bug traps or interceptors to alert you to possible problems before they become serious.
- When traveling, check hotel bedding and furniture for signs of bed bugs. Also, do not leave your clothing on the bed or floor and plan to wash all clothing promptly upon returning home.
Bed bugs can be frustrating and difficult to deal with, but with the right information and some great products, you can achieve complete bed bug control. There is a full line of Harris products dedicated to helping you get rid of bed bugs. We are America’s oldest EPA registered pest brand and want to help you take back your home once and for all.
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